Background artiste from 'Better than Stars'

Friday, 19 August 2011

Don’t Get Me Started (Grumpy Post)

Yet again I’ve been brought up short by someone describing their own writing as “literary.” How can they do that?

After years in the field, I am less and less sure what “literature” actually means. More and more, I think it is something someone else thinks you “ought” to be reading: and that is a judgment that can only be made on an author’s work by others, retrospectively.

If by “literary” you mean well-written, don’t we all aspire to that? If you’re breaking norms and conventions, what you are writing is experimental. Only someone else can say it is literature. And the majority of so-called literary authors are dead.

So there.


litlove said...

I've been meaning to drop by for ages - lovely blog! My definition of literary is very personal, but I use it to refer to books I have to concentrate to read. That doesn't mean they're worse than other books, or better. But if I need to be in a quiet place without sounds of husband, son, television, etc breaking my focus, then I think of it as literary. So, A. S. Byatt: literary; Anita Shreve: not literary. Orhan Pamuk: very literary!, David Lodge: not so literary. It may well not work for anyone else, but it does the trick for me.

I definitely don't think of literature as what I ought to be reading, though. That must surely be the kiss of death to any book. :)

Sue Sedgwick said...

I so agree. I've been saddened as a teacher of English to sixth formers to see how some apparently 'literary' students came to us already hostile to some of my favourite, and I thought accessible authors by their experience of them as set books. I think if I'm ever published I shall make it a condition that my work never forms part of an exam spec - as if!